The Midland Area Farmers Market season will wrap up on Saturday, Nov. 21 as usual, with organizers and vendors agreeing it was a success despite some challenges.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the destructive flood, the 2020 farmers market season was unclear, said market manager Emily Lyons. The market’s original site — by the Tridge in downtown Midland — was affected by flood damage in late May and was unable to provide a safe place for market-goers and vendors.
“It was definitely a one punch, two punch,” says Lyons. “It was an emotional rollercoaster.”
Lyons began researching how other markets around the country were moving forward given the pandemic, and how states were handling their individual reopening guidelines. She began communicating with various non-profits and market coalitions in upstate New York, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and the Pacific Northwest. She also attended webinars, asking many questions.
“Everybody was doing it a little bit different,” Lyons says. “Ultimately, it was more important than ever to make it happen.” She held onto vendors’ full payments, and so she felt an obligation to those businesses and to the community. “We had to find something that was going to work for everyone.”
Market-goers stroll down the walkways and shop. The MAFM moved from downtown Midland to Dow Diamond, following the destructive flooding that took place in late May.
Lyons says she learned how to “pivot” in an era where it became necessary for businesses. “We had a public who needed this. You can hold a market almost anywhere.” When the downtown market opened in May and part of June, it was strictly drive-thru only. Vendors sold their homemade and homegrown products out of their vehicles and displays.
After the devastating flood, Lyons — with the help of the Michigan Baseball Foundation, Dow Diamond and others — secured the market’s new location at Dow Diamond. Organizers and volunteers brought in portable bathrooms and hand-sanitizing stations. The large outdoor space allowed vendors and customers to distance safely in the East Parking Lot.
Some vendors were ready to embrace the new restrictions while others could not make a decision on how to make it work, Lyons said, adding that some 20 vendors decided to forego the season.
“I can’t make that decision for people,” says Lyons. “It’s a decision everyone had to make for themselves.” Some 20 vendors decided to not return to the market.
One of the vendors who endured the season was Sarah Longstreth, owner of Good Stead Farm who says, “all things considered, sales went extremely well.” Longstreth sells fresh produce, including lettuce, microgreens, garlic, tomatoes and carrots.
Good Stead Farm offers options to customers, including online pre-orders and home delivery making shopping convenient. Longstreth added that it was important that her business learn how to adapt and move forward this 2020 season.
“We had to redefine success and be flexible,” Longstreth says. “[The pandemic] totally changed the way we do business.” She admits that in early spring, the community was fearful and uncertain. “It was hard. Things were changing, and what was allowed and not allowed. We had to figure things out.”
In May and part of June, her business, based in Hope, Michigan was a touch-free, drive-thru market only. After July 4, Longstreth noticed an increase in sales. “Once we transitioned into a walking market and people were able to shop safely, it picked up,” says Longstreth.
“It couldn’t have gone much better,” says Longstreth. She was told by market-goers that they appreciated knowing where their produce was grown, and that it was being handled safely. “It’s food they could trust,” she says.
Good Stead Farm also offers options to customers including online pre-orders and home delivery, which makes shopping convenient, Longstreth says.
People of all ages came out to visit the MAFM this season, embracing safety precautions like masks and hand-sanitizing stations. Vendors said customers like the larger walkways and ample parking at the new location.
Walter Reinhardt of Reinhardt Blooms, a family-owned business based out of Kawkawlin, says “[the season] started out rough,” but in nearing the end “it has been a very good season for us.” He credits his success with the location of the market and people’s slower summer plans. “Summer was different for people. So many places were shut down. People weren’t as busy.”
Reinhardt, who has sold fresh flower bouquets and dried flowers at the market for several years, says he heard only positive comments about the market's new location. “There was plenty of room to walk and shop, people were able to spread out and the parking was much better,” says Reinhardt.
While next year’s location has yet to be determined, Lyons says many vendors have already shown “a lot of interest” in coming back. “We expect to rebound in 2021.”